For Immediate ReleaseJune 19, 2015
Today, in the case of People of the State of California v. James Simon the court, Judge Andrew Sweet, made rulings that exculpatory evidence was not presented to members of the grand jury. This conclusion by the court is not consistent with the presented evidence as set forth in the transcripts and exhibits of the grand jury proceedings. Indeed, the grand jury was presented with evidence that William Osenton, the shooting victim here, remembered and recounted facts in different ways at different times and the full grand jury record supports this.
The court also stated that the grand jury should have been presented with "good character evidence" -- namely letters of support of Dr. Simon's friends and community members stating that he is a good man, soccer coach, and doctor. In no case has it been held that this kind of positive reference letters is "exculpatory" evidence sufficient to undo a grand jury Indictment.
Lastly, the court made reference to the fact the grand jury was told that the defendant had access to a number of legally possessed firearms and ammunition was irrelevant and would never be admissible in a court of law. The court clearly did not take into account that the preliminary hearing magistrate did allow at the time of the preliminary hearing proceedings, over objection, such evidence.
Obviously, I am very disappointed with the court's decision which removes the possibility of having what I believe to be a very important issue placed before the residents of this county -- that issue being what factually needs to be present to justify the use of deadly force to defend oneself (or another). The right of self-defense coupled with phrases such as "... the right to stand your ground" and "one does not need to retreat" is tossed out by many without much reflection on what those concepts really mean.
Clearly we all have a right to defend ourselves from someone who intends to harm us and the lawful response to an aggressor can reach the level where the only reasonable option is to use deadly force for your own protection. However, the pivotal question to be answered is what is the appropriate "reasonable" response -- here the question becomes "... did Dr. Simon based on all he was facing make "reasonable decisions."
The decisions to charge Dr. Simon originally and to subsequently seek a criminal indictment were not decisions made without a considerable degree of reflection and analysis. Dr. Simon in the minutes before the shooting had secured himself in a place of safety, had armed himself with a loaded firearm and had access to a telephone to obtain law enforcement assistance. At that point William Osenton was not physically in his presence or taking actions to force himself into the secured locked garage. Dr. Simon made a decision to leave that secured location and place himself physically in front of William Osenton. William Osenton at that moment of confrontation was outside the curtilage of the residence and there is no evidence indicating he had breached the gated area leading directly to the residence or the detached garage where Dr. Simon and his wife had secured themselves. Dr. Simon was aware and told the officers during his interview that William Osenton was unarmed and did not possess a firearm or any other form of a weapon.
There were other relevant factors present that clearly bear on whether Dr. Simon's actions were reasonable. His state of mind not to be victimized was probably the primary motivating factor that pushed Dr. Simon to take the actions he did. He spoke to law enforcement of being a victim of a robbery during his time as a medical student. That incident had a life-long impact on him and he repeatedly articulated the fact he was not going to be a victim again. He also recounted an incident one to two years prior to this incident where he turned into his driveway in front of an approaching car. That enraged the driver (not William Osenton) of that vehicle who exited his car and approached Dr. Simon. That incident then led to Dr. Simon placing the loaded firearm used in this incident in the garage. The quantity of firearms and ammunition Dr. Simon amassed over the years was not an illegal act and under our laws he had a right to possess firearms however the relevance of the quantity and location of those firearms is very relevant in showing what was available to Dr. Simon and bear on the evaluation of whether the decision that he needed to shoot William Osenton, at the time and location that he did was a reasonable decision.
I stand by my decision to have prosecuted this case in the manner that I did. The decision was done irrespective of the societal status of Dr. Simon and political ramifications associated with it.
My decisions have been without personal agenda, and are legally and ethically sound. I will continue to hold myself and my office to the highest principles in that regard in all our cases.
I came to the conclusion based on all the evidence - taking emotion out of the equation - that Dr. Simon's reactions and his belief and need to use deadly force were not justified and were unreasonable ones. By the narrowest of margins his conduct did not result in the death of another.
I continue to support the Marin County Criminal Grand Jury's decision to return an Indictment based on its objective findings of the properly presented evidence in this case.
Ed BerberianDistrict AttorneyCounty of Marin
Marin County Civic Center3501 Civic Center DriveSan Rafael, CA 94903(415) 473-6450